In a class of its own
Instead of tinkering with change Mercedes-Benz has gone for a totally new look with its A200 CDI - a move which Jim McCauley applaudes
In a world dominated by evolutionary model design, it is very refreshing when a manufacturer goes for total change.
In the case of the new compact model from Mercedes-Benz, it is a case of farewell to the A-Class of old and welcome to a totally new dimension.
The outgoing model has been replaced by a more substantial solution, longer, wider but significantly lower than is predecessor with full integration in terms of equipment and engineering provision into the mainstay Mercedes ranges.
In appearance it is also more conformist than its forbearers, but nonetheless striking in its styling with cabin room that challenges that of the company’s E-Class.
The compact sector is the biggest for the automotive industry with increasing demand for the premium models, and there is no doubting that the new A-Class has the top spot in mind.
When the new model goes on sale here at the end of the year there will be an initial choice of two petrol engines of 1.6 and 2.0 litres and two diesels of 1.5 and 1.8 litre capacities.
Test choice was the larger of the diesel models, the A200 CDI ‘Blue Efficiency’ fitted with the optional 7-speed twin-clutch automatic transmission and finished in the top AMG sport trim.
The automatic transmission clears the central console of the gear select lever as choice is made on the right-hand steering column stalk. Initial movement with the gearshift mode in default ‘Economy’ mode is smooth and refined.
As the speed builds, the car continues its smooth delivery tempting the driver to press on. The quality of the car permeates and reinforces the fact that you are in a mainstream Mercedes – a car of substance that simply dominates the obvious competition.
With the focus on economy, the gears are held in as low revs as possible, so for rapid overtaking it is necessary to change down on the steering wheel paddles to sharpen the response. However, selecting the ‘Sport’ mode shortens the shift response times with the gearchanges made at higher engine speeds, all of which makes the car that much more responsive to throttle input.
The third ‘Manual’ option allows the driver total manual control of the gear selection but my personal preference is for the paddles to be fixed to the steering column rather than to the wheel where they are not always to hand.
Engine response is matched by the agility of the car which even in the ‘Comfort’ package of the test car (despite the ‘Sport’ badge) offers excellent cornering support while maintaining ride comfort over long distances.
Like all other aspects of the car, safety provision is further increased with the standard fitment across the range of ‘Attention Assist’ and ‘Collision Prevention Assist’.
Attention Assist monitors driver behaviour mainly through the steering wheel movements and provides audible and visual warnings when it interprets signs of drowsiness. Collision Prevention Assist is a radar-based system that can cut the risk of nose-to-tail collisions by warning the driver of being too close to the vehicle in front. It also primes the brakes to maximise stopping power as soon as the driver responds.
Trim-wise the new model range comprises five levels of specification with SE and Sport building on the generous equipment levels of the standard car.
SE offers larger 16-inch alloy wheels with a range of interior upgrades while the Sport specification is identified by 17-inch wheels, twin exhaust pipes, sports seats and further interior upgrades.
In addition there are the ‘AMG Sport’ models and ‘Engineered by AMG’ which increase the sporting aspects of the cars including sports suspension and uprated brakes.
Engine outputs remain the same as the range opening model irrespective of the specification level, although a range topping performance model will debut early in 2013.
Mercedes-Benz A200 CDI
Engine: 1.8litre turbo-diesel, 136bhp @ 3,600-4,400rpm. 250Nm torque @ 1,400–2,800 rpm.
Transmission: 7-speed automated manual
Drive: To front wheels
Performance: 0-62mph (100km/h) in 10.6 seconds; max, 119mph (190km/h)
Fuel on combined cycle: 68.9mpg (4.1l/100km)
CO2: 116gms/km; VED Band C for zero annual car tax in first year and £30 pa thereafter
Trim: AMG Sport
Price: £ 24,895
Warranty: Three-year/unlimited mileage
Euro NCAP: N/A
Available extras: Drive Kit Plus (iPhone integration), Becker Map Pilot, Blind Spot Assist, Lane Keeping Assist, Speed Limit Assist.